Chapter 2: Chapter 2

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: The Nocktian Circle

Reads: 351

The Atendaris castle keep was sat atop a magically constructed pillar, right outside the Crater. While not a huge territory, it was very well guarded, with three magical barriers, one magic storm, the ever irradical invasions of critters from the Maw, and a guard dog carved in stone. The castle itself was a library one could live in with a family of seven, with books lining every room without a bed or dining chair. It also boasted Nocktes’ most advanced universidome and a nice, safe courtyard, that stretched on forever if one wished for it to do so. Anzu wasted no time making his way to the study. In it, Marc sat, surprised to see him.

'Marc, you’re supposed to be in tune with every barrier protecting the keep, get a grip.’ Anzu commented. ‘Look, we have a problem.’

 

'We do?’ Marc tilted his head at him. Outside the door, Rovus stood himself right beside the door frame, listening in on the two. ‘Wait, wait, wait. This isn’t about Raovusto, is it?’

 

'What? No, it’s about my outing.’ Anzu sat himself in one of the chairs in front of the desk. 'Only partially about Rovus.' He pouted.

 

'It failed?’

 

'Beside the point, look.’ The rogue leaning in closer. ‘I saw something on the gem and I need you to scout my memory.’

 

'Really now?’ Marc returned to his notes. He was always reluctant to do magic, even if he wished to do it. See, even though Marc was the only child of one of the most powerful mages in Ajilatel, he was born with a condition that had grown a hole in his natural magic reserve field. In essence, whenever he tried using magic, most of it would leak out and hurt him, if he wasn't careful. ‘You sure it wasn’t a condiment stain?’

 

'Fairly sure condiment stained gems wouldn’t be approved by the oracles.’ Anzu sighed. He knew of Marc’s condition, and had to count on two dozen hands how many times the mage almost died to something simple, like blowing a greater amount of air than his lungs could hold. Still, he was the mage Anzu knew where was, and the most knowledgeable after his father.

 

'I take it you don’t have it with you then.’ Marc pushed his notes aside.

 

'No.’ Anzu paused. ‘Your boy froze when the guard came. I was too worried about him to secure the gem in the open.’ Rovus looked down with a sense of guilt.

 

'Really now.’ Marc raised his brows. ‘Huh. That’s unlike you.’

 

'You didn’t have him go through combat training?’

 

'I did. Or at least, that’s what the wolves should have taught him.’

 

'I can’t take him with me anymore, Marc.’

 

'It was one run.’

 

'And one heart attack.’ Anzu paused. ‘Look, I’ll need you to scout my memory so we can make sure I saw wrong, and then I’ll leave. Go back to my stalking about.’

 

'And if you saw right?’

 

'Rovus isn’t coming with me either way.’ The rogue crossed his arms. It disappointed him, the boy certainly had his charms, but Anzu was no parent. In truth, he trusted himself less than he trusted the boy. How would he even talk to him, and make him understand his point of view? 'I think... If I saw right, this is about to become way too dangerous for him.'

 

'Alright, I’ll keep him occupied.’ Marc sighed and stood up. ‘I can’t promise I’ll be able to scout you, .’ He trudged out into the hall.

 

'Well, you or dad, I need to make sure.’

 

'Father is too frail for magic.’ Marc said. ‘If you don’t believe me, you can ask him yourself.’

 

'I guess I could.’ Anzu mused as the two walked down the hallway towards the library.

 

Rovus watched them from behind a decorative pillar, tapping his fingers. He looked at his hands. In his rush to get up the rope in Karinn, he had gotten blisters on his palms. They had popped at some point, and were well on their way to healing, but if his uncle worried that much about him, he figured it might be best if he stayed back after all. Maybe he’d go to Tok-Tok, to train with the wolves and his mother. Still, there was reluctance in him. He wanted to spend more time with his uncle. Anzu was fun, unpredictable, not like the people Rovus had grown up with. He’d really prefer if Anzu wanted him with.

 

 

'Ah… Here.’ Marc opened a tome on a nearby desk, to a single-frame spellcircle. ‘Butter yourself with patience, this is going to take a while.’ He said, focusing inward. Slowly, he applied magic to the circle, cursing when some of it flowed out. His grip of it seemed to have loosened over the years, as if he had gotten allergic to it, like some sort of mundy.

 

‘Oh, bother…’ Anzu sighed under his breath. He paced around the library, looking at the books. Old, dusty, varying in levels of preservation. Most of them had odd names like “Hagrave” and “Rolinaster” written on the spine, while others had some weird Gobbie or elven blurbs Anzu couldn’t even read. Then he came across one written in strange, uneven slashes and seemingly random droplets. He took it out of the shelf, regarding it coldly. He could read it only thanks to the least comfortable period in his life, one he just barely escaped with his life. ‘On Shadows and Nightshades?’ He looked to Marc, who briefly turned his head to look at him.

 

'What is that?’

 

'Atz’kú.’ Anzu explained, wandering back to the desk and fluttering through the book. ‘Didn’t know dad had this kind of sheit lying around.’ He sat in a chair, laying his legs over the table.

 

'Hm.’ Marc concentrated on the circle, instinctively reaching for his napkin. ‘The library does have three floors. Who knows what else he has lying around here.’

 

'We should probably burn this crap.’ Anzu wrinkled his nose at the book. It explained the icky process of binding a shadow to a person through poisoning, and a couple of other details Anzu could have lived well without knowing.

 

'Burn something from father’s library?’ Marc raised a brow. Paused. ‘No.’ He said .

 

'Come on, Marc, you’re going to keep something from the Atz Vaka?’

 

'If father saw fit to do it, I will.’

 

'Anzu grumbled quietly in disapproval. ‘Would you mind if I borrow it then?’

 

'If you do so with the intent to ruin it, I will.’

 

Anzu groaned. ‘Fine! Just to read, it’s not like any of you know how to anyway.’ He sighed, pocketing the book and looking over at the spell circle. Marc had managed to envelop one sign in it. ‘That’s it?’

 

'I told you.’ Marc said, trying not to break his concentration. ‘It’s either this or a headache and a five hour nosebleed.’

 

'Rothal give me strength.’ Anzu muttered, putting his head on the table. As if sent by the god of chance himself, a flash of light flared up on the bottom floor of the library. Anzu and Marc exchanged looks at the following muttering.

 

'Anzu hopped to his feet and ran to the railing, looking down at the area in front of two massive windows. A coal elf with short, white hair and a goatee, wide, milky eyes, wearing a fine leather vest, a shirt with thin sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and a black cloak, stood in the center of a quickly fading spellcircle.

 

‘Malik!’ Anzu exclaimed.

 

The coal elf scratched the back of his head and looked up. ‘Oh! Anzu. Uh…’ He paused, fickling with the buckle on his bag. ‘Am I interrupting something?’ He asked, his ears dipping.

 

'No! No! You’re just in time!’ Anzu darted back to the desk. ‘Malik’s here!’ He told Marc, running down the stairs.

 

Marc stared after him, then looked at the circle, just managing to catch a drop of blood before it stained the paper. He sighed in relief. 'Thank the gods…' He put his napkin to his nose and closed the book, wandering slowly after the rogue.

 

 

'Relax and take deep breaths.’ Malik worked quickly, laying Anzu down on a and putting his fingers on select points between his forehead and his stomach.

 

 

'Yae, yae, just don’t go back too far, alright?’ Anzu said, putting his hands behind his head. ‘It gets real unpleasant around the tenth, twelfth year.’

 

'Got it.’ Malik nodded, rattling one of his earrings. ‘And you, Marcademion? How are the cows?’ He chuckled, looking to the Atendaris lord.

 

'They’re fine.’ Marc nodded, refraining from laughing. The joke about cows had been started by Anzu, and spread like wildfires amongst his social circles. It wasn’t a particularly funny joke to Marc, but his wife and Rovus didn’t seem to mind.

 

'I sent Alabaster over to find a Sugarsnapper for you a few days ago. I don’t know if…’ The elf paused his work to look at Marc.

 

'Haven’t heard from him.’ Marc shrugged.

 

'Ah.' Malik nodded. 'A day or so left, then.' He smiled, turning back to the rogue.

 

'Rovus came with me on my last run.’ Anzu blurted out. Marc murmured his disapproval.

 

'Really now?’ Malik looked to Marc and gestured to his nose. The nodded. ‘Ah.’ He nodded upward. ‘Did that go well?’

 

'No. He almost got himself caught and I didn’t even get what I came for.’

 

'Shame.’ The coal elf said in half disinterest. When it came to matters of breaking the law, Malik wasn’t all tofond of it all. Even if he knew it had a deeper purpose in life in Nocktes, he felt in no way inclined to involve himself in it.

 

'That’s the reason we’re doing this to begin with, you know.’ Anzu sighed, having the middle of his forehead pressured again.

 

'Yae?’ Malik sent a light pulse of magic down the rogue’s body, watching it flow down to his stomach and disperse. ‘Not enough…’ He muttered, returning to massaging the rogue’s chest.

 

'Yae, we were going for the gem in the Karinn temple.’ Anzu kept talking, his voice swaying with the motions. ‘When I looked at it, I was sort of hypnotized.’

 

'I heard trinkets and baubles do that to a man of few of his own.’

 

'It wasn’t like that, it was just a plain old ruby. But it looked like it had a symbol inside it.’

 

'Ah, and that’s what we’re looking for now?’

 

‘Yae. I was fairly sure right then, but I need a second opinion. A clearer one.’ The rogue said, staring at the elf’s eyes. All of it was white, even the pupils. While it could send shivers up a regular man’s spine, their use was not lost on the informed. The name , which had become more common after the resurgence of their kin, not only gestured to their skin, but also their eyes, which let them see in the darkest of caves. Even in others' memories.

 

'That would be me.’ Malik smiled, sending another pulse of magic through the rogue’s forehead. ‘Right, I’m ready when you are.’

 

'Ready.’ Anzu closed his eyes, feeling the familiar pressure of the coal elf’s small thumbs on his forehead and just below his navel.

 

'Deep breath.’ The coal elf said.

 

Anzu filled his lungs, and only a second later, his vision flashed a bright, pearly white under his eyelids. Soon the images from the past few days flashed before his eyes.

 

'Say stop.’

 

He saw the early morning dew on the grass outside Stonebasket, he felt the calming breeze, and watched the peaceful townsfolk going about their daily lives. Then, he could smell the freshly baked bread, he saw a horsecart tipping due to a hole in the road, and a streetwalker aggressively flirting with him. He felt his heart speed up as he climbed a small cliffside, and his stomach grumble on a pennyless evening.

 

As the cold blue colors of the night in Karinn swiveled before him, Anzu said ‘Stop.’ The images slowed, and he was faced with the moment he and Rovus slid down the rope into the temple. The edges of his vision were clouded, and some of the details of the room blurred. He could clearly see Rovus’ bright eyes in the darkness, even when the pillars around him faded into a blur. It didn’t take long before his vision shifted to the pool, and he loomed over the gem.

 

'There… See?’ Anzu slurred.

 

'I see it.’ Malik answered.

 

The symbol within was a circle nested within the crest of a horizontal waning moon, and a stake running from the circle and down to a tip, crossed by a thin line that ran all around the middle of the gemstone.

 

'Hmm…’ The coal elf twisted his mouth and lingered until the guards arrived, then eased the spell out of the rogue.

 

Anzu’s vision blurred, and then the warm colors of the Atendaris library embraced his vision. He sat up in a daze. ‘Sorry, got a little excited there…’ He rubbed his head.

 

'Don’t worry about it, that’s the least harmful side effect…’ Malik muttered, scribbling in his tome.

 

'You alright?’ Marc ran a concerned hand over Anzu’s shoulder blade.

 

'Yae…’ Anzu sighed. Magic was always uncomfortable. Like an unwanted muscle twitch. Magic that wasn't poisoned into him, anyway.

 

'Does this look familiar?’ Malik showed Anzu his scribblings. He had written the sign on a blank page.

 

Anzu and Marc exchanged glances.

 

'I take that as a yae?’ Malik turned his tome to look at it. ‘Admittedly, it seems familiar, but…’

 

'Familiar?’ Anzu exposed his left shoulder. ‘It’s been on me since birth.’ He gestured to the tattoo on his left shoulder.

 

Malik’s rounded brows raised, then one lowered. ‘Huh… That’s uncanny.’ He said, his white eyes darting to the lord. Had Anzu not been familiar with the slight differences between the elf’s eyewhites and irises, he might have missed it.

 

'It’s the Atz Vaka. They’re a shadow cult that popped up sometime around… I’m sure more than 29 years ago.’ Anzu explained. ‘They imbue people with the shadows of the In-Between and generally used to spread the shadow plague if they could.’

 

Used to?’ Malik looked up from his book, after having scribbled enthusiastically in it. He had fought in the shadow wars, as far as Anzu knew, but chances were he hadn't come across the cult either way.

 

'We went into their pocket dimension and Anzu basically made himself their leader through battle.’ Marc explained.

 

Malik’s expression became something between worry and uncertainty as he stared at Marc, then at Anzu. ‘Huh.’ He hesitated to put his pen to his tome again. ‘And, uuuh… Do you still have contact with them?’

 

'The Atz Vaka? Ptui!’ Anzu spat to the side, throwing his arms dismissively at the necromage. Marc frowned at the spittle on his father's polished library floor, then at the rogue who made it. ‘I’d rather take a bath in fresh cowflops than engage with anyone even remotely related to them.’

 

'I’m just saying, as their leader, you could probably inquire…’ Malik mumbled through his teeth.

 

'He’s right. If you could ask anyone why the symbol of the Atz Vaka is in the temple of Karinn, it would probably be the Atz Vaka.’ Marc said, crossing his arms patiently. ‘If they’re the ones planning something-’

 

‘Do you know what Atz Vaka means?’ Anzu tipped himself out of the sofa, just barely keeping himself from falling forward. ‘Atz Vaka means shadow people. If they want to talk, they have to indisputably benefit me. And with all due respect, the only shadow people I will commune with, on my own volition, are thieves and lowlives.’

 

'Then go ask them.’ Malik shrugged. The other two looked lopsided at him. ‘No, really. Go ask the lowlives and thieves. For all you know, one of them was there. Or they have info on someone who was.’ He paused, tapping his jawline with his pen. ‘At least, that’s my understanding of the underground.’ He put his book down at the nearby table, crossing his arms expectantly.

 

Anzu twisted his mouth. It wasn’t as reliable as going directly to the Atz Vaka, but it was safer and probably more pleasant than the Atz Vaka. ‘Fine. I’ll ask the undergrounders.’ He nodded.

 

'Good. Would that be all?’ Malik smiled. ‘I have business with the lord and the old lord, so I must be…’ He motioned his hands as if drawing in a fishing line.

 

'Yae, that’s all, thank you.’ Anzu sat back in the sofa.

 

'Listen.’ Malik pulled carefully at his goatee. ‘I’ll be willing to investigate it if you’re there in four weeks.’

 

'In the temple?’

 

'Yae.’ Malik clapped his book shut. ‘That thing looked oddly like a spellcircle in some places, like it stretched outside the gem… But I’ll have to see it in person.’ He paused, looking distant for a moment. ‘I want to question someone, too.’

 

'Four weeks?’

 

'Four weeks.’ Malik nodded.

 

'Alright. I’ll be there.’ Anzu shook his hand and looked at Marc. ‘See you.’ He nodded. Marc nodded back.

 

 

 

Within the hour, Anzu had made it halfway down the road to Bolvorg, nested in the middle of the Crater. The vegetation grew dark and ashen, and the dirt as black as coal. It was a long slope downwards, as the crater was practically a bowl for a giant. Further down, naught but the size of a palm from his current standpoint, lay the Dracoris capital of Bolvorg. Surrounded by a wall of ebonsteel and stone, it was a blemish on the otherwise fresh green and brightly gold Ajilatel Anzu knew. Given that it rested on top of a volcano, and was inhabited by dracor, however, it might only be able to exist right there.

 

He stopped and sighed, turning on his heel and looking up the road. ‘And what would you be doing here?’

 

The forest in front of him lay quiet.

 

'Rovus, you’re a two stories tall cow. I can see you.’ Anzu’s lips were drawn wide.

 

With his head hung low, the big bull slipped out from the trees, covered in ashes. The son of lord Marcademion Atendaris, just like his mother, was a Talc. A shapeshifting bull-creature with sharp facial features, four ears, blank white eyes, two tails, and muscles enough for a full herd of normal cows. He sat down on the road, flicking four large ears at the rogue, and focusing his glassy, white eyes at him.

 

'Why are you here?’ Anzu asked again.

 

The bull brushed the ground with a huge fist and hoof-fingers, bellowing quietly. Anzu raised a brow at him. After some hesitation, Rovus shifted to the form of a slightly cow-eared human. His lips pursed, he looked sideways at Anzu.

 

'Well?’ The rogue demanded.

 

'I want… With…’ The boy mumbled.

 

'Scuse me?’ Anzu held a hand behind his ear.

 

'I want to come with.’ Rovus said louder.

 

'No. Go home.’ Anzu said, turning back to the road.

 

'No!’ Rovus ran to the rogue. ‘I’m coming wi-!’ His voice trailed off to uncertainty as Anzu snapped around, glaring at him.

 

'I’m going somewhere very dangerous, and no whelp who freezes at the mere sight of a helmet is going to follow. Understood?’ He spoke with an edge, a steel cold tone that demanded rather than asked.

 

'N-no. I mean, yae! But-!’

 

'What is so hard for you to understand?’

 

'I just want to go on adventures with you!’ Rovus raised his voice in desperation. Anzu’s eyebrows shot up. Want. Want the boy said. ‘I mean… Dad’s always doing paperwork, and mom’s off in Tok-Tok about some sort of wolf and bull relation pact…’

 

'Pardon?’ Anzu muttered.

 

'And I don’t really have any friends, I mean…’

 

'Scuse my mother?’ Anzu mumbled, shaking his head.

 

'And even if we failed that temple thing, I thought it was really fun! I mean, what do you have to lose? We could just do regular adventures too, like, finding someone’s lost sock or something?’ The bull tipped himself up and down on his feet.

 

Anzu shook his head. ‘I stand to lose a nephew.’ He had been fairly distant to the boy since he was born, only saying hello and goodbye were their usual interaction for the longest time. ‘And I need you to understand, no matter how little we’ve spoken before, I don’t want that.’ He tried reasoning with the boy, a sport he never was very good at.

 

Rovus brushed the ash with his boot. ‘You don’t have to worry. Because you’ll be there with me.’ He said.

 

Anzu tilted his head. At the temple, he had practically killed himself in the stress of having to get the clumsy bull out. He almost died being restrained by the temple guard, too. Still, he’d be hard pressed to not call it fun.

 

'Alright.’ Anzu exposed his palms. He was too easy to sway to be a real parent, but maybe easy enough to be a cool uncle. ‘But only if, from now on, you do as I say, when I say it. Break that promise, and you’re going straight home. Deal?’ He reached out a hand.

 

Rovus smiled widely, his spirit lifting. ‘Deal!’ He shook Anzu’s hand gratefully.

 

 


Submitted: February 23, 2018

© Copyright 2021 TordenFaaret. All rights reserved.

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